By Ladislaus Louis D’Souza, PC
Rome: Little did the organizing committee of the Centenary Year of the Association of Lay Pauline Cooperators imagine the turnout that was likely to be at the first ever International Conference of Lay Pauline Cooperators held in Rome May 18 to 27.
With the OPERA ROMANA PELLEGRINAGGI taking over the arrangements, no less than five Mercedes Benz air-conditioned buses zipped across and around Rome and Alba ferrying some 300 plus delegates [including 10 from India] to the numerous places associated with the Pauline Family and its far-sighted Founder, Beato Giacomo Alberione and its Patron, Saint Paul!
Mary, Our First Love!
Significantly, the Pauline Pilgrimage that the faith-filled delegates were making to commemorate the milestone of the Centenary, commenced with a Liturgical Celebration of the Feast of Mary Queen of Apostles at Her Majesty’s very own Sanctuary built for her by her devout client and worthy son, Don Alberione.
This beautiful church, known as the Basilica of Saint Mary Queen of Apostles, is located at Montagnola in Rome in the Ostiense district, in Via Antonino Pio. Built between 1945 and 1954, the sanctuary founded by Alberione as the Mother House of the Society of Saint Paul and in effect the cradle of the entire Pauline Family comprising of ten institutes was, on February 25, 1965, established as a Titular Church by Pope Paul VI, i.e. the seat of the cardinal’s title ‘Regina Apostolorum’ whose incumbent as Cardinal-protector presently, since 2012, is Cardinal John Tong Hon. On 26 October 1976, it was established as a parish with the decree of the Cardinal Vicar Ugo Poletti Pastoral munere.
Designed by architect Leone Favini inspired by Roman Baroque architecture, the Sanctuary was raised to the dignity of a minor Basilica in 1984 by Pope Saint John Paul II.
The Basilica contains the tombs of Blessed James Alberione, the initiator of the Pauline Apostolate of the Media, Venerable Thecla Merlo, the first woman collaborator of the Founder and the great mother of the Pious Society of the Daughters of Saint Paul, and Blessed Joseph Timothy Giaccardo, the first priest of the Pauline Family and tireless promoter of the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master.
The interior of the basilica, built on a central cruciform plan, with a large dome, displays a series of frescoes of Marian images by G.A. Santagata, of special significance being the depiction Mary sitting among the apostles with the Holy Spirit descending upon them. Not to be missed is the gorgeous mural of the Queen giving her King-Son to the apostles and the world that forms the background of the main altar of the Basilica.
The Solemn Liturgy, animated by the Apostoline Sisters (Queen of Apostles) was presided over by the Reverend Jose Valdir De Castro, Superior General of the Society of Saint Paul and, as such, the Head of the Pauline Family. A grand evening concert by the Band of the Vatican Gendarmes in the Basilica brought the curtain down on the celebration.
In the Footsteps of Saint Paul
Visits to places of Pauline interest and significance formed an important part of the itinerary. The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, one of the four Papal Basilicas in Christendom, was unforgettable for the splendour in evidence both within and outside, its history fascinating every pilgrim no end! The larger-than-life-sized statues of Saints Peter and Paul were a sight to behold, the look in Peter’s dour eyes spelling love for his Master whereas that in the eyes of Paul striking the viewer as full of fire for the Faith! Indeed!
If statues could speak, the ones in Rome’s churches and basilicas would qualify as the finest examples, each statue exuding a sense of life in all its movement! As for seating in most Rome churches, one cannot help but wonder as to what happened to the intricately carved wooden pews which have been shamelessly replaced with plastic bucket seats! Coming back to Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, the basilica has the distinction of having on display 265 medallions portraying all the popes of yore. It was at this Basilica that Pope Benedict XVI opened the Year of Saint Paul in 2008; and it is here that the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity opens.
The Sanctuary of the Three Fountains where the severed head of the Apostle to the Gentiles bobbed thrice, causing three springs of fresh water to sprout where water was non-existent gave us a glimpse into the depth of Faith of this zealous convert to the religion of the Way. Significantly, the martyrdom of both Paul and Peter which took place the same day albeit in locales apart was powerfully brought out by the not too large yet remarkable sculptures erected at this church, viz. the beheading of Paul and the upside-down crucifixion of Peter.
The Master Builder
The churches built by the Founder, Blessed James Alberione, were marvels that must be seen to be believed! While the Basilica of Queen of the Apostles boasts alabaster in its windowpanes, the glass panels of the Church of the Divine Master at Via Portuense sported stained glass creations that boasted a rare modern trend in the unparalleled interpretations of Pauline and Biblical themes! The Temple of Saint Paul in Alba where Mass was celebrated for us by the Most Reverend Marco Brunetti, Bishop of Alba, is a masterpiece of a church like no other!
Notably, the pilgrims had the joyful privilege of visiting the Cathedral of Alba where it all began during the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that fateful night dividing the 19th and 20th centuries. Returning there for night adoration ourselves brought us a feel of what it must have been like for young Alberione to feel called to do something for the people of the new century!
Our trip to the birthplace of our Founder and his Baptismal church, the Church of Saint Lawrence, at San Lorenzo di Fossano, was a humbling experience what with lush fields all around creating a sense of awe, particularly in relation to the “James! Show us the light!” reference in his biography!
The conversion of the Alberione house into a memorial or a museum of sorts was total, the cattle shed turned into a chapel housing the Blessed Sacrament, drawing us into its embrace the way only the Eucharistic Lord can. The final lap of our pilgrimage was a stopover at the birthplace of Alberione’s first woman collaborator, Maestra Thecla Merlo, at Castignito of Alba (Cuneo) where a hall converted into an audio-visual facility was used for the celebration of Mass.
The piece de resistance was the General Audience with the Pope. Pope Francis is obviously a huge draw with people of every hue clamouring for a glimpse and a touch of him.
The 1st day of the 2-day conference had the Superiors General of the Pauline Family, viz Society of Saint Paul, Daughters of Saint Paul, Pious Disciples of the Divine Master, Sisters of the Jesus, Good Shepherd and Sisters of Mary Queen of Apostles, extending a hearty welcome to the delegates. In her dissertation on ‘The Meaning of Being a Cooperator in the Church Today’ Professor Nunzia Boccia dwelt on the need to awaken in ourselves the fire of the love of God that has us striving to really know and respect one another, return to doing the beautiful things we once did in our families even as we together tided over difficulties, thus preaching the Gospel in practice.
She pointed out that in the mind of the Founder, the Association of Pauline Cooperators was the first entity to have been born though it finally saw the light of day [in 1917] soon after he had founded the Society of Saint Paul  and the Daughters of Saint Paul . She said that Alberione already had over a hundred cooperators whose orientation he strove to change from the ‘I’ to “us”. Professor Nunzia pointedly referred to Blessed Timothy Giaccardo, the first priest of the Pauline Family as a model of such selflessness. She pointed out that his name was Giuseppe but Alberione renamed him Timothy at his Profession after the first collaborator of Paul.
The Cooperators she opined were actually called by Jesus himself. The writer of this article in his submission shared that the Founder had already given us a clear-cut formula for evangelization as Cooperators, viz TO LIVE AND GIVE TO THE WORLD JESUS MASTER, THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. This formula which constitutes the charism of the Pauline Family was one that would get its due by the Cooperator striving to spell out the formula in his interactions and dealings with his own family, his group of cooperators, with the small Christian Community to which he belonged, with the parish community and thence with the world around.
Conference day 2 saw a ‘round Table’ discussion on ‘The Pauline Cooperator in the Pauline Family’ with Giuseppe Altamore, CP and some Cooperators from different continents with Father Stefano Stimamiglio SSP as Moderator. The highlight of the day was the announcement of the four Cooperators selected to meet the Holy Father at the Papal Audience scheduled for the next day. FDM Joan Manohar from Bombay, was selected to represent the Sub-Continent of India! The day concluded with the Superiors General of the Pauline congregations thanking the delegates for their presence and participation.